My high-school history teacher always used to say, “Statistics don’t lie — but watch out for those statisticians.” That is, numbers never lie, but viewed in the wrong context, they can lead to disastrously misguided conclusions.
This adage applies, mutatis mutandis, to Penn For Palestine’s visible demonstration on College Green, which ignored both the context of and some inconvenient facts regarding the 2009 Gaza War, dubbed Operation Cast Lead.
What, in fact, caused Cast Lead? In August 2005, Israel withdrew every last Israeli civilian and soldier from the Gaza Strip. This drastic and painful sacrifice nearly tore Israeli society asunder; however, Israel handed over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority — lock, stock and barrel — in the hope that removing Israelis from a hostile environment in Gaza, where they lived in the midst of 1.4 million Palestinians, would be seen as a significant gesture for the furthering of peaceful relations with Palestinians and would permit Gaza to develop and independent democratic government.
These hopes, however, were soon slashed. Hamas was democratically elected in January 2006, though this election turned out to be the kind of “one man, one vote, one time,” as Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza in 2007, often defenestrating them from high floors or tossing them off roofs. Since consolidating control of Gaza, Hamas has instituted a repressive, backward regime that murders dissidents, condones honor killings and incurs capital punishment for homosexuality.
Israel’s security hopes — that once autonomous, Palestinians would stop shelling Israel — were ironically reversed: instead of decreasing, rocket fire only increased. Between Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and the Gaza war in 2009, 6,000 mortars were launched from Gaza, aimed at Israeli civilian centers — kindergartens, schools and houses — to terrorize and murder innocent Israeli civilians. The civilians’ crime? Trying to lead a normal life. Their punishment? To live under siege. Sderot, an Israeli city, has the distinction of being the most heavily shelled city since World War II. Children of Sderot have the highest instance of bedwetting in the world, since they have grown up their entire lives traumatized that what has befallen their friends might happen to them — that a rocket will blow apart their rooms as they sleep at night, that a mortar will land before they can run from the soccer pitch to a bomb shelter during the 15-second warning of the air raid sirens, that their bus, too, will be blown to bits by a laser-guided missile.
How long must a country endure indiscriminate attacks against its civilian population? Imagine if Mexican drug cartels started firing rockets at Texas and Arizona — how many rockets would the United States have to sustain before it responds? How many deaths would it take to prod our government to defend its civilians?
The answer, I hope, is not many. A sovereign state’s responsibility, first and foremost, is to safeguard its citizens.
In this light, Israel’s restraint to thousands upon thousands of rockets fired at its citizens for nearly a decade is super-human. Israel’s decision to stop the rockets, once and for all, by launching an incursion into Gaza was a no-brainer.
In fighting in Gaza, Israel faced an enemy that utilized asymmetric and nonconventional tactics. Hamas stored its rockets and ammunition in civilian houses, schools and United Nations compounds, and routinely used human shields for their soldiers, who were, incidentally, dressed in civilian garb.
Nevertheless, Israel fought this war with unparalleled dignity, and, in the words of Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, “during its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.” The numbers speak for themselves. By U.N. estimates, the average ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in conflicts, such as Afghanistan, worldwide is 3:1 — three civilians for every combatant killed. But in Iraq and Kosovo, the ratio was worse — 4:1. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia. In Gaza, it was less than 1:1.
Is it still a tragedy that civilians were killed in Gaza? Yes. I don’t know of anyone who disagrees with that. But was Israel justified in defending its citizens and launching Operation Cast Lead? Yes. Was Israel more fastidious in avoiding civilian collateral damage than any other western army? Yes.
Don’t be fooled by little flags; unless, that is, you want to be fooled by the facts.
Shlomo Klapper is a College freshman. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.